Who the heck is Harpocrates and why is he “really” Jesus?

Let’s start looking at Acharya S, Christ in Egypt. In my last post, I discussed how you create a false story about some ancient person or event. With this in mind, I now want to look at Harpocrates, who appears as a key player in Acharya’s book.

The central contention of Acharya’s book is that Jesus is really a rebranding of Horus. The rambling nature of her book means that she never comes out and says so, but there you are.[1]  And Horus is also Harpocrates, it seems (as well as Osiris, etc; but let’s not get distracted).

Who is this Harpocrates? Well, let’s have the primary ancient literary sources:[2]

Varro, De Lingua Latina 5.57 (1st century BC) [3]:

These gods [Sky and Earth] are the same as those who in Egypt are called Serapis and Isis, though Harpocrates with his finger makes a sign to me to be silent.

Ps.Hyginus, Fabulae 277 (1st c. AD?):

Isis first invented sails, for while seeking her son Harpocrates, she sailed on a ship.

Ovid, Metamorphoses, book 9, 684 f. (early 1st c. AD):

… beside her [Isis] stood the dog Anubis, and Bubastis, there the sacred, dappled Apis, and the God of silence with pressed finger on his lips; …

Catullus, Poems, 102 (1st c. AD):

If anything was ever entrusted by a friend to a silent sure one, whose loyalty of spirit is deeply known, you’ll find I’m equally bound by that sacred rite, Cornelius, and turned into a pure Harpocrates.

Plutarch, “Isis and Osiris”, from his Moralia, ca. 100 AD:

Chapter 19 (358E): Typhon formally accused Horus of being an illegitimate child … Osiris consorted with Isis after his death, and she became the mother of Harpocrates, untimely born and weak in his lower limbs.

Ch. 65. (377B): … about the time of the winter solstice she [Isis] gave birth to Harpocrates, imperfect and premature, amid the early flowers and shoots. For this reason they bring to him as an offering the first-fruits of growing lentils, and the days of his birth they celebrate after the spring equinox.

Ch. 68. (378C): And Harpocrates is not to be regarded as an imperfect and an infant god, nor some deity or other that protects legumes, but as the representative and corrector of unseasoned, imperfect, and inarticulate reasoning about the gods among mankind. For this reason he keeps his finger on his lips in token of restrained speech or silence. In the month of Mesorê they bring to him an offering of legumes and say, “The tongue is luck, the tongue is god.”

Epiphanius, Panarion, 4th century.[4]:

11, 3. … For instance, the cult of Harpocrates near Buticus, or the little town of Butus itself [is equally silly]. They are already elders in years, < but are children in behavior* >, and are compelled by the daemon to enact the imaginary frenzies of Horus at the sacred month. (4) But each citizen—even an elder already far along in years, together with young women of the same persuasion, and other ages from youth up—are supposedly priests of this Horus, and of Harpocrates. Their heads are shaved and they shamelessly carry the slavish, as well as accursed and childish emblem, willingly taking part in the games of the daemon’s initiates laughing madly and foolishly, and cast off all restraint. (5) First they smear their faces with porridge, flour and other vulgarities, and then they dip their faces in a boiling cauldron and deceitfully madden the crowds with their faces, for a supposed miracle; and they wipe the stuff off their faces with their hands, and give some to anyone who asks, to partake of for their health’s sake and as a remedy for their ills.

Augustine, City of God, book 18, chapter 5, (late 4th century) mentioning the statue of Harpocrates with a finger at his lips:

… since in every temple where Isis and Serapis were worshipped there was also an image which, with finger pressed on the lips, seemed to warn men to keep silence, Varro thinks this signifies that it should be kept secret that they had been human.

Ausonius, Epistles 29[5]:

You, as though you were a mute citizen of Oebalian Amyclae, or Egyptian Sigalion [=Harpocrates], were sealing your lips, stubbornly keeping silence, Paulinus.

There are also items in the spell books in the Greek Magical Papyri, although they tell us little.[6]

PGM III, ll.633-731:

Recite often . . . written down . . . to learn something, it is told to you by the god. And if you . . . write . . . and wrap in linen from head to foot . . . , and on the ground draw Harpocrates holding [his finger] to his mouth, and in his left hand clutching a flail and a crook . . . then “ABLANATHANALBA” in wing . . . “ABRASAX”: near the back, “OEAUA” . . . and set the child on it, and write the 5th formula . . .

PGM IV, 930-1114:

Godbringing spell to be spoken three times with your eyes open: “I call upon you, the greatest god, sovereign HOROS HARPOKRATES ALKIB HARSAMOSI IOAI DAGENNOUTH RARACHARAI ABRAIAOTH, you who enlighten the universe and by your own power illumine the whole world, god of gods, benefactor …

Phylactery for the rite, which you must wear for the protection of your whole body: On [a strip] from a linen cloth taken from a marble statue of Harpokrates in any temple [whatever] I write with myrrh these things: “I am HOROS ALKIB HARSAMOSIS …

PGM LXI, l.30-35 = Demotic papyrus PDM lxi, l.175.:

And whenever you perform this spell, have an iron ring with yourself, on which has been engraved Harpokrates sitting on a lotus, and his name is ABRASAX.

And… that’s our lot.

From this material, which is entirely Graeco-Roman, we learn that Harpocrates is a child deity, depicted with a finger to his lips, son of Osiris and Isis, who is born at the winter solstice.  There is a relationship of some sort to Horus, but it is left indefinite, whether these are two separate gods, or two aspects of the same.

However any google search will reveal what the RealEncyclopadie states, that “Harpocrates” is merely a Greek form of an ancient Egyptian deity of the late dynastic period.  Will this perhaps give us more?  In my next post, I shall look into this.

First-century AD wall painting from the Temple of Isis in Pompeii depicts a statue of Harpocrates (son of Isis) in a niche, with a priest with two silver candle holders. (VRoma: National Archaeological Museum, Naples: Barbara McManus). From here.
  1. [1]This may not be an accident. Such omissions are not uncommon in these kinds of fake histories. Earl Doherty, before publishing his Jesus Puzzle in book form, released chapters online as web pages. The chapters often got severely pummelled. So when he edited the book, he removed the explicit claims, which had been roundly refuted, preferring to let the reader infer them from his build-up (which he did not remove). This gave him deniability and at the same time made it much harder for opponents to pin him down. It is never a good sign, in my experience, when an author fails to articulate his controversial claim concisely and explicitly. The aim may be to hamper others from testing its truth.
  2. [2]My thanks to theoi.com for the list of sources here. The old RealEncyclopadie can be good for listing sources. But in this case we only find this:

    Harpokrates. 1) Aegypt. etwa: Har-pe-chrod = Horus, das Kind, besondere Form des Gottes Horus. Wann sie zuerst vorkommt, ist nicht sicher festzustellen, seit der 26 Dynastie wird sie ziemlich häufig und besondere Verbreitung erhielt die Verehrung des Gottes seit der Einrichtung des Serapiskultes durch die Ptolemaeer in Alexandria. Da die verschiedenen Formen des Gottes Horus schwer ausemanderzubalten sind, werden alle zusammen unter Horus behandelt werden.

    Harpocrates. 1) Egyptian. I.e. Har-pe-chrod = Horus, the child, a special form of the god Horus. It is not certain when he first appears, but from the 26th dynasty he becomes quite frequent, and the worship of the god receives special encouragment after the establishment of the cult of Serapis in Alexandria by the Ptolemies. Since the various forms of the god Horus are difficult to separate, they will be treated all together under “Horus”.

    In fact there is no entry for “Horus” in the succeeding volume or any of the supplements.

  3. [3]Loeb vol.1, p.55
  4. [4]This is from the last section, De Fide, which appears in vol. 2, p.669 of the revised translation by F. Williams.
  5. [5]Loeb vol. 2, p.115.
  6. [6]H. Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in translation, p.291. On p.334 we find the following note which might be useful to look into further: Harpocrates: Harpokrates (“Horus the child”) typically is portrayed with a finger of his right hand to his mouth, and he also may hold a crook and flail in his left hand. Harpokrates is the son of Isis and Osiris and is identified with the rising sun. See H. Bonnet, Reallexikon der ägyptischen Religionsgeschitche, Berlin 1952, 273-75, s.v. “Harpokrates”; D. Meek, “Harpokrates,” in: W. Helck and E. Otto, Lexikon der Ägyptologie 2 (1977) : 1003-11.

2 thoughts on “Who the heck is Harpocrates and why is he “really” Jesus?

  1. Everyone knows Harpocrates is the full first name of one of the late Grouch Marx brothers. Oh, wait a sec….

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